The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) is to press ahead with the planned launch of online working for civil cases – despite reports by providers that the system is flawed.
The LAA confirmed it will begin a phased roll-out of the client and cost management system in the new year, following piloting by 47 providers in the north-east. Speaking at the Legal Aid Practitioners Group conference in Manchester, the LAA’s director of finance and performance Owen Mapley said the scheme would go ahead unless there are ‘show-stopping’ problems.
However, solicitors who have taken part in the pilot claim a number of problems should be dealt with before the system goes live nationally.
Elspeth Thomson, partner at Newcastle firm David Gray, said pilot providers have identified ‘real sticking points’. The main problem, she said, is the lack of audit trail, as providers have no way of seeing what they have submitted to the LAA.
Thomson also claimed the system introduces duplication in the process for emergency applications; does not allow supporting documents, such as evidence of means and orders, to be sent; and providers have to keep logging on to the system to track the progress of applications. ‘Basically we have to dance round their maypole,’ she said.
Mapley said over 2,300 applications have been successfully submitted and processed during the pilot. The agency has identified a number of ‘enhancements’ to improve the system during the pilot and will continue to work with providers to identify others.